How Customers Share Their Local Business Impressions on Yelp, Instagram, and Vine

A a small business owner, you can choose to ignore the growing influence of customer review sites being accessed by mobile users, but that doesn’t mean they will ignore you. Whether you know it or not, your business is likely being reviewed and shared electronically. As the old saying goes, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”

Increasingly, customer reviews are going mobile. Yelp, Instagram, and Vine users are using smartphones to snap photos and videos, using them to share local business impressions not only with their friends, but with the public in general.

Yelp Me, Rhonda

Launched in 2004, Yelp quickly became, and remains to this day, the most popular Internet rating and review site for businesses of all types and sizes. By keeping spam and advertisements to a minimum and by focusing on longer, more thoughtful reviews, Yelp has succeeded in becoming arguably the most trusted source for local business reviews and ratings.

Yelpers can log on to the site via PC or mobile, write a review, post photos or even videos, and give the business a rating of one to five stars. Thanks to Yelp’s enormous influence, businesses can either be made or ruined by their Yelp reviews. If your overall rating is 3.5 or above, you’re doing great. Anything less than that and you need to do some serious damage control.

Yelp also has a somewhat controversial spam filter, designed to weed out suspicious reviews, both good and bad. For this reason, Yelp cautions businesses from overtly soliciting reviews from their customers as these may be filtered out. Suggested, less overt ways of soliciting reviews are displaying a “Find us on Yelp” banner in your store, adding a “Check us out on Yelp” link in your email signature, and placing a Yelp “badge” on your website. The distinction would appear to be that guiding customers to your Yelp page is fine; exhorting them to write a review is not.

In recent weeks, Yelp has added a new feature that will allow potential customers to send messages directly to your business email in order to ask questions or communicate with you directly.

Instant Gratification with Instagram

Launched in 2010 and purchased by Facebook in 2012, Instagram is an online mobile photo and video sharing social networking service, wherein users can share pictures and videos to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr.

Instagram’s signature feature is that it confines images to a square shape, reminiscent of Polaroid images, as opposed to the standard 4-3 ratio used by most smartphone cameras. Users can also choose from 19 different digital photo filters to apply to their images to enhance the overall mood and appearance.

When uploading photos, users have the option of tagging the photo with the business’ Instagram profile, making it easy for anyone searching for your business to see photos and video recorded by other customers. By accessing the “photos of you” page, businesses can access all photos that have been uploaded and tagged by their customers, allowing them to leave a short message for the user.

Heard it Through the Twitter Vine

Vine is a new mobile app purchased and offered by Twitter that allows users to capture and share short, six-second looping micro videos. These videos can then be posted to the user’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Envisioned as the animated version of Instagram, the video’s six-second length limit is designed to inspire creativity and provide a quick animated snapshot that is more likely to be viewed than a longer video.

Since its launch, Vine has been used to capture news stories, create commercial ads and contests, and even capture celebrity “selfie” video clips. The service’s lure is a combination of being easier to use than most video apps and its connection to one of the biggest social networks in the world (Twitter).

While the short clips do allow audio, users are cautioned that the audio is usually disabled on Twitter so videos should be able to stand on their own without it.

Because of Twitter’s immense popularity and the simplicity of filming and sharing a Vine video on Twitter, businesses can benefit – and suffer – enormously through these six-second cinemas, depicting d├ęcor, ambiance, food presentation, or even a cockroach scurrying across the floor.

Video Wars

In recent months, both Yelp and Instagram have begun to seemingly poach on Vine’s video territory by incorporating video apps into their services.

Originally designed to accommodate written reviews, Yelp soon began encouraging reviewers to post photos along with their words, and recently rolled out an iPhone app that allows users to post short videos as well. Videos range from 3 to 12 seconds, and contain only raw, uncut footage. Editing or uploading of previously filmed videos is not permitted.

Instagram’s new video feature is in direct competition with Vine, allowing users to take 15 second videos versus Vine’s 6-second clips. Offers image stabilization and photographic filters, the videos can be distributed to Tumblr, Flickr, email, Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter.

While Yelp boasts 138 million unique visitors every month, Instagram claims a total of 200 million users, compared with Vine’s 40 million. Although the three sites do have a lot of cross-functionality, each is unique in its own right, and attracts its own loyal following. As such, a savvy business owner would be prudent to monitor and leverage all three of these services to increase their market share!